Review: PWN: Combat Hacking

By Dave Neumann 19 Mar 2013 0
Mr. Glitch, your tests results are back. It doesn't look good... Mr. Glitch, your tests results are back. It doesn't look good...

Looking at the characters in PWN: Combat Hacking, you get the idea that hacking all day may not be the best career choice. Every hacker in PWN looks about as happy as someone who just found out they have a terminal illness.  At first, I wasn't sure what everyone’s problem was, as I found hacking in the PWN universe to be far more exciting and enjoyable than these Matrix wannabes were letting on. A few hours later, however, I was just as dour as the rest of them. Turns out PWN: Combat Hacking is a very good game stifled by a heavy dose of repetition and a lack of replayability.

Coding in the future is going to be awesome! Coding in the future is going to be awesome!

At first glance, PWN takes all the gritty realism of Tron and the subtle strategy of Whack-a-mole and compiles it into one shiny executable. Each match in PWN consist of trying to turn all the cubes on the board lovely Tron blue, while your AI opponent wants them Sark red. Early matches involved poking every red cube I could find with no thought given to strategy. Every now and then I’d channel Mega Man and gain my enemy’s power to use in future fights. Rinse and repeat. This “strategy” worked, too. I made it through the first 6 or so matches in the solo campaign doing nothing but blindly smacking red cubes.

I was about to give up when the game changed. Suddenly, the grid had depth. Literal depth. Connections between blocks passed below and over other blocks; adjacent blocks weren't always connected. Tapping blocks suddenly wasn’t merely waiting for the previous block to convert. The interconnections between the blocks had meaning. I had to slow down and think about where chokepoints in the grid were. Which blocks did I need to protect? The powers gained from my enemies started to become useful. Should I save my energy to drop a virus on my enemy, or spend now and encrypt a node to protect it? Suddenly I was playing a strategy game and not some twitchy toy. It felt good, and I started eating up the solo campaigns.

Each campaign has you leading a different individual from the PWN universe through a series of head-to-head matches against other hackers. Eventually you reach the tournament and, if successful, unlock new characters and new campaigns. It is with this campaign system that I started to detect some flaws. I flew through the first character only to find the second campaign was essentially the same as the first, just with a different character. You start over, powerless, and have to steal all your powers from enemies just like the first campaign. It’s hard to not ask yourself, “Didn’t I just do this”?  The characters you play and battle against are all bland and, therefore, there's little incentive to get to the next one. It’s match after match after match and apart from the changes in the shapes of each of the grids, each match is generally the same. After a while the sameness becomes palpable.


The obvious solution is to ditch the AI and play against some humans. Unfortunately, PWN multiplayer is only available locally via Bluetooth. Seeing as how most people I know hate me, hooking up locally isn’t very convenient or even possible. The game does sport global leaderboards which track Reputation gained after Quick Matches but, frankly, I could care less. What are these Quick Matches of which I speak? Same exact game as the campaign mode, only you get to pick the shape of the grid you play on and which character you want to use of those you've unlocked. Again, it all starts to feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over.

In the end I think PWN is a great game, I’m just not sure it’s a great app. There is a fun, tense game to be played here but playing it against the AI over and over again leaves it without an endgame. That said, I have a couple enjoyable hours sunk into PWN, and that’s not a common thing amid all the App Store dreck.

But would I play again tomorrow, or next week? Probably not, and that’s too bad.

Review: PWN: Combat Hacking

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